About the technical report
In Ufology, one quickly recognizes that the range of experiences is so vast it literally boggles the mind. From close encounters, to strange creatures, to spiritual transformation to telepathic communication, the spectrum of experience is overwhelming. Ufologists have from the very beginning strived to categorize the observations of UFO witnesses, hoping to glimpse the true nature of this phenomenon. Some like Ted Bloecher cataloged entity sightings while others like Ted Phillips specialized in trace evidence and David Jacobs, Budd Hopkins and John Mack focused on abductions, each of these pioneers providing important contributions to the field. I have often been asked by new researchers where they should focus their own research efforts in their search for truth.
Technical Reports About the Technical Report The major focus of this technical writing course is the technical report. Just about everything you study, everything you write, is geared toward preparing you to write this final report. The early, short assignment involving instructions or descriptions and the like give you practice using headings, lists, notices, and graphics; in handling numbers and abbreviations; and of course in producing good, clear, well-organized writing. For many students, the technical report is the longest document they've ever written. It normally involves some research; often the information comes not only from published sources in the library, but also sources outside the library, including nonpublished things such as interviews, correspondence, and video tapes. It may also be the fanciest document: it uses binding and covers and has special elements such as a table contents, title page, and graphics. As you think about what you want to write about for this project, don't shy away from topics you are curious about or interested in, but don't know much about. You don't need to do exhaustive research; normally, you can pull together information for an excellent report from several books and a half-dozen articles. Our real focus is the writing: how well adapted to a specific audience it is, how clear and readable it is, how it flows, how it's organized, how much detail it provides. We are also focused on format: how well you use headings, lists, notices; how well you incorporate graphics; how well you handle the front- and back-matter elements; and how nice a job you do of turning out the final copy of the report. You don't need a fancy laser printer and you don't need to be a trained graphic artist to produce a fine-looking report. A simple typewriter or dot-matrix printer, scissors, tape, whiteout, a good-quality photocopier, and access to nice (but inexpensive) binding are all you need. Plan on doing a first-rate job on the report; remember that past students have shown prospective employers their reports and have benefited by doing so. Your job in this unit then is to define the following: Report topic: Decide what subject you are going to write on; narrow it as much as possible. Report audience: Define a specific person or group of people for whom you are going to write the report. Define the circumstances in which this report is needed. Report purpose: Define what the report will accomplish--what needs of the audience it is going to fulfill. Report type: Decide on the type of report--for example, technical background report, feasibility report, instructions, or some other. You can do these in any order: for some people, it helps to start by defining an audience or a report type first. For others, beginning by picking a topic is more stimulating. Once you have defined these elements, you can start testing your report-project ideas by asking yourself these questions: Is there hard, specific, factual data for this topic? Will there be at least one or two graphics? Is there some realistic need for this report? Types of Technical Reports Technical-background report. The background report is the hardest to define but the most commonly written. This type of technical report provides background on a topic--for example, solar energy, global warming, CD-ROM technology, a medical problem, or U.S. recycling activity. However, the information on the topic is not just for anybody who might be interested in the topic, but for some individual or group that has specific needs for it and is even willing to pay for that information. For example, imagine an engineering firm bidding on a portion of the work to build a hemodialysis clinic. The engineers need to know general knowledge about renal disease and the technologies used to treat it, but they don't want to have to go digging in the library to find it. What they need is a technical background report on the subject. Instructions. These are probably the most familiar of all the types of reports. Students often write backup procedures for the jobs they do at their work. Others write short user manuals for an appliance, equipment, or program. If there is too much to write about, they write about some smaller segment--for example, instead of instructions on using all of WordPerfect, just a guide on writing macros in WordPerfect. Feasibility, recommendation, and evaluation reports. Another useful type of report is one that studies a problem or opportunity and then makes a recommendation. A feasibility report tells whether a project is "feasible"--that is, whether it is practical and technologically possible. A recommendation report compares two or more alternatives and recommends one (or, if necessary, none). An evaluation or assessment report studies something in terms of its worth or value. For example, a college might investigate the feasibility of giving every student an e-mail address and putting many of the college functions online. The same college might also seek recommendations on the best hardware and software to use (after the feasibility report had determined it was a good idea). In practice, however, it's hard to keep these two kinds of reports distinct. Elements of the feasibility and recommendation report intermingle in specific reports--but the main thing is to get the job done! Primary research report. Primary research refers to the actual work someone does in a laboratory or in the field--in other words, experiments and surveys. You may have written a "lab report," as they are commonly called, for one of your previous courses. This is a perfectly good possibility for the technical report as well. In this type of report, you not only present your data and draw conclusions about it, but also explain your methodology, describe the equipment and facilities you used, and give some background on the problem. You can modify this type by summarizing other primary research reports. For example, you could report on the research that has been done on saccharine. Technical specifications. In this report type, you discuss some new product design in terms of its construction, materials, functions, features, operation, and market potential. True specifications are not much on writing--the text is dense, fragmented; tables, lists, and graphics replace regular sentences and paragraphs whenever possible. Thus, specifications are not a good exercise of your writing abilities. However, you can write a more high-level version--one that might be read by marketing and planning executives. Report-length proposal. As you may be aware, proposals can be monster documents of hundreds or even thousands of pages. Most of the elements are the same, just bigger. Plus elements from other kinds of reports get imported--such as feasibility discussion, review of literature, and qualifications; these become much more elaborate. Business prospectus. If you are ambitious to run your own business, you can write a business prospectus, which is a plan or proposal to start a new business or to expand an existing one. It is aimed primarily at potential investors. Therefore, it describes the proposed business, explores the marketplace and the competition, projects revenues, and describes the operation and output of the proposed business. Audience and Situation in Technical Reports A critical step in your early report planning is to define a specific audience and situation in which to write the report. For example, if you wanted to write about CD audio players, the audience cannot be this vague sort of "anybody who is considering purchasing a CD player." You have to define the audience in terms of its knowledge, background, and need for the information. Why does the audience need this information? How will readers get access to this information? You also have to define the audience in terms of who they are specifically: that means things like names, organization or company, street address and phone numbers, and occupation or position. Just as critical to the planning process is defining the situation. When you define audience, you define who the readers are, what they know or don't know in relation to the topic, what experience or background they have in relation to the topic, and why they want or might need the information. Sometimes this leaves out a critical element: just what are the circumstances that bring about the need for the information. Topics for Technical Reports Just about any topic can be worked into a good technical-report project. Some are a little more difficult than others; that's where your instructor can help. And, that is why there is the proposal assignment: it gives your instructor a chance to see what you want to do and to guide you away from problems such as the following: Editorializing. For the report project, avoid editorial topics. For example, don't attempt to write a technical report on the pro's and con's of gun control, abortion, marijuana, and the like. You can, however, develop these topics: for example, describe the chemical, physiological aspects of marijuana or the medical techniques for abortion or the developmental stages of the fetus. These get into substantial technical areas. But avoid editorializing--there are other courses where you can do this. Fuzzy topics. Some topics just don't work, for some reason. For example, dream analysis can be very fuzzy and nebulous. So can UFOs. You want your report to have hard factual data in it. The preceding topics are difficult to pin down this way. However, good reports have been written on the apparatus used in dream research laboratories. Maybe somebody can even figure out a good way to handle UFOs. Tough technical topics. As mentioned earlier, don't shy away from interesting topics that you don't feel you know enough about. No one expects a doctoral thesis. Use the report project as a chance to learn something new. Of course, it's common sense that we often write better about things we know about. If this is a concern for you, look around you in your work, hobbies, or academic studies. At the same time, however, don't be concerned that your has to be about computers, electronics, or some other "technical" topic. Remember that the word technical refers to any body of specialized knowledge. Instructors as software. And of course if you are absolutely stumped, get with your instructor. Use your instructor as a brainstorming device. Here are some areas in which you can look for topics as well: Your major, future courses: Think about some the courses you have taken or will soon be taking within your major. Browse through some textbooks used in those courses. Magazines, journals, periodical indexes: Do some browsing in magazines and journals that are of interest to you. Indexes are a terrific way of brainstorming for a topic--they are huge lists of topics! Career plans, current work: Consider what sorts of work you will be doing in your chosen field; you may be able to think of some topics by this means. Take a look around you at work--there may be some possibilities there as well. Ideas for improvements: Take a look around your home, school, neighborhood, or city. What needs to be fixed, improved? Thinking along these lines can also lead to some good topics. Problems: Think about problems--your own, the city's, the state's, the country's, the world's. Think about problem in relation to certain groups of people. There are plenty of topics here as well. General Characteristics of Technical Reports You're probably wondering what this technical report is supposed to look like. Ask your instructor to show you a few example reports. In addition to that, here is a brief review of some of the chief characteristics of the technical report: Graphics: The report should have graphics. Graphics include all kinds of possibilities, as a later chapter in this book will show. If you can't think of any graphics for your report project, you may not have a good topic. Get in touch with your instructor, who can help you brainstorm for graphics. Factual detail: The report should be very detailed and factual. The point of the report is to go into details, the kind of details your specific audience needs. Information sources: Your report should make use of information sources. These may include not only books and articles that can be found in libraries but also technical brochures, interviews or correspondence with experts, as well as first-hand inspections. If you don't believe any information sources are necessary for your report project, contact your instructor. Documentation: When you use borrowed information in your technical report, be sure to cite your sources. The style of citing your sources (also called "documenting" your sources) used in this course is called the number system. Realistic audience and situation: The report must be defined for a real or realistic group of readers who exist in a real or realistic situation. Most students invent an audience and situation. And the audience can't merely be something like "anybody who might be interested in global warming." Instead, it has to be real, realistic, and specific: for example, "Texas Coastal Real Estate Developers Association, interested in reliable information on global warming, to be used to aid in long-range investment planning." Headings and lists: The report should use the format for headings that is required for the course, as well as various kinds of lists as appropriate. Special format: The technical report uses a rather involved format including covers, binding, title page, table of contents, list of figures, transmittal letter, and appendixes. These have to be prepared according to a set standard, which will be presented in a later chapter. Production: The technical report should be typed or printed out neatly. If graphics are taped in, the whole report must be photocopied, and the photocopy handed in (not the original with the taped-in graphics). The report must be bound in some way. Length: The report should be at least 8 doublespaced typed or printed pages (using 1-inch margins), counting from introduction to conclusion. This is a minimum; a report of this length is rather skimpy. There is no real maximum length, other than what your time, energy, and stamina can handle. But remember that sheer weight does not equal quality (or better grade). If you get into a bind with a report project that would take too many pages, contact your instructor--there are numerous tricks we can use to cut it down to size. Technical content: You must design your report project in such a way that your poor technical-writing instructor has a chance to understand it--in other words, you must write for the nonspecialist. Also, at some point, you may get concerned about the technical accuracy of your information. Remember that this is a writing course, not a course in engineering, nursing, science, electronics, or the like. Make a good-faith effort to get the facts right, but don't go overboard. Checklist for the Technical Report Use the following questions to ensure that your technical report is structured properly according to our specifications: Do you include all the required components in the required order, for example, transmittal letter, followed by title page, followed by figure list, and so on? Do you address your report to a real or realistic audience that has a genuine need for your report? Do you identify in the introduction what background the audience needs to read and understand your report? Does your report contain specific, factual detail focused on the purpose of the report and the needs of the audience and aimed at their level of understanding? Does your report accomplish its purpose? Is that purpose clearly stated in the introduction? Does your report use information sources and do you properly document them? Does your report use the format for headings that is standard for this course? Does your report use the format for lists that is standard for this course? Does your report use graphics and tables? Does your report use the format for graphics and tables that is standard for this course? Specifically, are your figure titles (captions) to our class specifications? Is page 1 of your introduction designed according to the standard for this course? Does every new section (which starts with a first-level heading) start on a new page? Have you check for widowed headings (headings that start at the very bottom of a page)? stacked headings (two or more consecutive headings without intervening text)? lone headings (a single heading within a section)? parallelism in the phrasing of headings? Does the title page of your report include a descriptive abstract, and is it written according to the specifications in the chapter on abstracts? Do you include an informative abstract in your report; is it positioned properly in relation to the other report components; and is it written according to the specifications in the chapter on abstracts? Specifically, does your informative abstract summarize the key facts and conclusions of your report rather than act as just another introduction or descriptive abstract? Does the introduction of your report include the elements necessary in good introductions, such as audience, overview, purpose? Do you avoid the problem of having too much background in the introduction, or having an introduction that is all background? Online Technical Writing: Other Types of Technical Reports For the final report, you can write one of (or even a combination) of several different types of reports. These choices are not meant to be restrictive, but to indicate a range of possibilities. If there is some other type of report that you know about and want to write, get with your instructor to discuss it. Organizational policies and procedures. These are the operating documents for organizations; they contain rules and regulations on how the organization and its members are expected to perform. Policies and procedures are like instructions, but they go much further. Feasibility, evaluation, recommendation reports. This group of similar reports does things like compare several options against a set of requirements and recommend one; considers an idea (plan, project) in terms of its "feasibility," in terms of some combination of its technical, economical, social practicality or possibility; passes judgement on the worth or value of a thing by comparing it to a set of requirements, or criteria. Technical background reports. This type is the hardest one to define but the one that most people write. It focuses on a technical topic, provides a certain background on that topic for a specific set of readers who have specific needs for it. This report does not supply instructions, nor does it supply recommendations in any systematic way, nor does it report new and original data. Primary research reports. This type presents findings and interpretation from laboratory or field research. Business plans. This type is a proposal to start a new business. Technical specifications. This type presents descriptive and operational details on a new product. Technical Background Reports The technical background report is hard to define--it's not a lot of things, but it's hard to say what it is. It doesn't provide step-by-step directions on how to do something the way that instructions do. It does not formally provide recommendations the way that feasibility reports do. It does not report data from original research and draw conclusions the way that primary research reports do. So what does the technical background report do? It provides information on a technical topic but in such a way that is adapted for a particular audience that has specific needs for that information. Imagine a topic like this: renal disease and therapy. A technical background report on this topic would not dump out a ten-ton textbook containing everything you could possibly say about it. It would select information about the topic suited to a specific group of readers who had specific needs and uses for the information. Imagine the audience was a group of engineers bidding on a contract to do part of the work for a dialysis clinic. Yes, they need to know about renal disease and its therapy, but only to the extent that it has to do with their areas of expertise. Such a background report might also include some basic discussion of renal disease and its treatment, but no more than what the engineers need to do their work and to interact with representatives of the clinic. Typical contents and organization of technical background reports. Unlike most of the other reports discussed in this course guide, the technical background report does not have a common set of contents. Because it focuses on a specific technical topic for specific audiences who have specific needs or uses for the information, it grabs at whatever type of contents it needs to get the job done. You use a lot of intuition to plan this type of report. For example, with the report on renal disease and treatment, you'd probably want to discuss what renal disease is, what causes it, how it is treated, and what kinds of technologies are involved in the treatment. If you don't fully trust your intuition, use a checklist like the following: Definitions--Define the potentially unfamiliar terms associated with the topic. Write extended definitions if the terms are key terms or if they are particularly difficult to explain. Causes--Explain what causes are related to the topic. For example, with the renal disease topic, what causes the disease? Effects--Explain what are the consequences, results, or effects associated with the topic. With the renal disease topic, what happens to people with the disease; what effects do the various treatments have? Types--Discuss the different types or categories associated with the topic. For example, are there different types of renal disease; are there different categories of treatment? Historical background--Discuss relevant history related to the topic. Discuss people, events, and past theories related to the topic. Processes--Discuss mechanical, natural, human-controlled processes related to the topic. Explain step by step how the process occurs. For example, what are the phases of the renal disease cycle; what typically happens to a person with a specific form of the disease? Descriptions--Provide information on the physical details of things related to the topic. Provide information about size, shape, color, weight, and so on. Comparisons--Compare the topic, or some aspect of it, to something similar or something familiar. With the renal disease example, you could compare renal disease to some other disease; the treatment to some treatment; the functions of the kidney to something familiar (an analogy); or even the treatment to something familiar, for example, the filter system for a swimming pool. Applications--Explore how some aspect of your topic can be used or applied. If it's some new technology, what are its applications? Advantages and disadvantages--Discuss the advantages or disadvantages of one or more aspects of your topic. In the renal disease topic, for example, what are the advantages of one treatment over another? Economic considerations--Discuss the costs of one or more aspects associated with your topic. How much does treatment for renal disease cost? How much does the equipment and personnel cost? Social, political, legal, ethical implications--Explore the implications or impact of your topic or some aspect of it in relation to social, political, legal, or ethical concerns. The renal disease example doesn't lend itself much to this area, but imagine the possibilities with a topic like cryogenics-- suspended animation of human beings. Often, new technologies have profound impact in these areas. Problems, questions--What problems or questions are there associated with your report topic or some aspect of it? Solutions, answers--What solutions or answers can you offer on those problems or questions raised by your topic or some aspect of it? There are many other items we could think up and add to a checklist like this, but maybe this is enough to get you started planning the contents of your technical background report. And remember that each of these checklist items may represent a full section in the report--not a sentence or two. Primary Research Reports Primary research report is our name for that kind of report that presents original research data--no matter whether that data was generated in a laboratory or out in the "field." A secondary research report then would be a report that presents information gained largely from printed information sources or from other sources such as people. You're probably already familiar with this type of report as the "lab report." The contents and organization of this type of report have a basic logic: you present your data and conclusions, but also present information on how you went about the experiment or survey. In other words, you enable the reader to replicate (the fancy scientific word for repeat) your experiment, or at least, visualize quite specifically how you went about it. Typical contents of primary research reports. To enable readers to replicate your experiment or survey, you provide information like the following (each normally in its own section): Introduction--The introduction to the primary research report needs to do what any good introduction to a report needs to do--get the readers ready to read the report. It may provide some background, but not more than a paragraph or two in a one- to two-page introduction. Some of the common elements of the introduction to a primary research report, such as the background or the purpose, can be handled in the introduction. If they require a lot of discussion, however, they may need their own sections. Problem, background--One of the first things to do, either in the introduction, or in a separate section of its own, is to discuss the situation that has led to the research work. For example, you may find that there is something questionable about a commonly accepted theory; you may have noticed some phenomenon that could be used to advantage, and so on. Explain this somewhere toward the beginning of a primary research report. Purpose, objectives, scope--Also toward the beginning of this type of report discuss what you intended to do in the research project--what were your objectives? Also, explain the scope of your work--what were you not trying to do? Review of literature--After you've established the basis for the project, summarize the literature relevant to it--for example, books, journal articles, and encyclopedias. If you are doing a study on grammar-checking software, what books or articles have already been written on that subject? What do they have to say about the merits of this kind of software? All you do is summarize this literature briefly and enable readers to go have a look at it by providing the full bibliographic citation at the end of your report. Materials, equipment, facilities--Remember that one of your goals in writing this type of report is to enable the reader to replicate the experiment or survey you performed. Key to this is the discussion of the equipment and facilities you used in your research. Describe things in detail, providing brand names, model numbers, sizes, and other such specifications. Theory, methods, procedures--To enable readers to replicate your project, you must also explain the procedures or methods you used. This discussion can be step by step: "first, I did this, then I did that...." Theory and method refer more to the intellectual or conceptual framework of your project. These explain why you used the procedures that you used. Results, findings, data--Critical to any primary research report is the data that you collect. You present it in various tables, charts, and graphs. These can go in the body of your report, or in appendixes if they are so big that they interrupt the flow of your discussion. Of course, some results or findings may not be presentable as tables, charts, or graphs. In these cases, you just discuss it in paragraphs. In any case, you do not add interpretation to this presentation of data. You merely present the data, without trying to explain it. Discussion, conclusions, recommendations--In primary research reports, you interpret or discuss your findings in a section separate from the one where you present the data. Now's the time to explain your data, to interpret it. This section, or area of the report, is also the place to make recommendations or state ideas for further research. Bibliography--The ideal of the primary research report is build upon or add to the knowledge in a particular area. It's the vehicle by which our knowledge advances for a specific topic. Your primary research report rests on top of all the work done by other researchers on the same topic. For that reason, you must list the sources of information you used or consulted in your project. This list occurs at the end of the report. As for the organization of a primary research report, the typical contents just listed are arranged in an actual primary research report in just about the same order they were just discussed. Loosely, it is a chronological order. First, you discuss set-up issues such as the problem and objectives, then you discuss the procedures, then the data resulting from those procedures, then your conclusions based upon that data. This type of report varies greatly in terms of how long the typical sections are, whether they get combined with other sections, and what they are called (their headings). Business Plans A business plan is very much like a proposal, except for at least one big difference. The prospectus seeks to start a new business or significantly expand an existing business. A proposal, on the other hand, seeks approval to do a specific project. For example, a business plan might seek funding and other support to start a software company to create computer games. A proposal, on the other hand, might bid to do the development work for some specific computer game. Common sections in business plans. Many of the elements of the plans resemble those of the proposal--particularly the qualifications and background sections. Remember that these sections are only typical and not necessarily in any required order. For your plan, you'll need to think about the best sequencing of the sections and about other sections that might also be necessary. Product or service to be offered--One of the most important sections of the business plan is the description of the actual product or service to be offered by your company. If it is a description of a product--a physical object--you need to use the techniques for technical description. If you are going to offer a service, explain it, and take readers on a step-by-step tour of how the service will be handled. Technical background on the product or service--If your product or service involves technologies or technical processes potentially unfamiliar to your readers, explain these. Remember that business plans often go to nonspecialists who, despite their lack of technical expertise, have the investment funds or the legal understanding to get your business going. Market for the product or service--Critical also to any business plan is the exploration of the existing marketplace into which your product or service fits. What other companies exist that offer the same thing you plan to offer? How much business do they do? How are they different from each other? How will your business differ from them? Process by which the product or service is produced--If applicable, explain how the product or service will be produced. Explain how the proposed business will operate on a day-to-day basis. Facilities and personnel needed for the operation--Plan to discuss the facilities (storefronts, warehouses, production facilities, vehicles) your business will require as well as the personnel that will be needed. Projected revenues from the operation--Of obvious importance in any business plan is the discussion of the revenues you project for your business. If you know the estimate of total revenues for the market area in which you plan to operate, what percentage do you explain to win? Obviously, in your first few years, you may operate at a loss--at what point in time do you project to break even? Funding necessary for startup and operation--The plan should also discuss the funding you'll need to get the business started as well as the operating costs--the funding needed to run the business on a daily basis. Legal issues related to the proposed business--Your business plan may also need to discuss your business, its products, or its services in relation to government regulations--for example, environmental restrictions. Qualifications and background of the personnel--Important too is the section that presents your qualifications to start and operate the business you are proposing. Of course, "you" can mean a number of people with whom you are working to start the business. This section can be very much like a collection of resumes, although you want to write an introduction in which you describe your group's qualifications as a whole. Discussion of feasibility and investment potential--You'll want to include in your plan a discussion of the likelihood of the success of your business. Obviously, you believe that it will be a success, but you must find a way to support this belief with facts and conclusions in order to convince your readers. Also, you must discuss what sort of return on investment readers can expect. Investment offering--And finally, you may need to present what kinds of investment apparatus you are actually offering. In planning your business plan, remember that you try to provide whatever information the audience may need to consider your idea. Your goal is to convince them you have a good idea and to encourage them to invest in it (or to approve it in some way). It's okay to provide marginal information--information you're not quite sure that readers will want. After all, you section off the parts of a business plan with headings; readers can skip over sections they are not interested in. Format for business plans. You can use the format for the formal report, the format for proposals, or some combination of the two. Business plans, even those for small operations, can run well over 15 pages--in which case you'll want to bind the plan. You'll also need a cover letter--examples of this are also in the section on report formatting. As you plan the format of your business plan, you'll want to think about designing it so that readers can find and read essential information quickly. This means setting up an abstract, but calling it "Executive Summary" or "Prospectus Overview." Also plan to group similar sections. In the preceding section that lists the various kinds of information to include in a plan, some of suggestions should be combined--for example, the sections on financial aspects of the proposed business. And finally, make use of appendixes for unwieldy, bulky information. Enable readers to quickly find the main sections of the plan, without having to wade through tables and charts that go on for pages and pages. Technical Specifications Specifications are descriptions of products or product requirements. More broadly, they can provide details for the design, manufacture, testing, installation, and use of a product. You typically see specifications in the documentation that comes in the package with certain kinds of products, for example, CD players or computers. These describe the key technical characteristics of the item. But specifications are also written as a way of "specifying" the construction and operational characteristics of a thing. They are then used by people who actually construct the thing or go out and attempt to purchase it. When you write specifications, accuracy, precision of detail, and clarity are critical. Poorly written specifications can cause a range of problems and lead to lawsuits. For these reasons then, specifications have a particular style, format, and organization. Make every effort to find out what the specific requirements are for format, style, contents, and organization. If they are not documented, collect a big pile specifications written by or for your company, and study them for characteristics like those described in the following. Use two-column lists or tables to lists specific details. If the purpose is to indicate details such as dimensions, materials, weight, tolerances, and frequencies, regular paragraph-style writing may be unnecessary. Make sure that each specification receives its own number-letter designation. In sentence-style specifications, make sure each specific requirement has its own separate sentence. Use the decimal numbering system for each individual specification. This facilitates cross- referencing. Use either the open (performance) style or the closed restrictive style, depending on the requirements of the job. In the open or performance style, you can specify what the product or component should do, that is, its performance capabilities. In the closed style, you specify exactly what it should be or consist of. Cross-reference existing specifications whenever possible. Various government agencies as well as trade and professional associations publish specifications standards. You can refer to these standards rather than include the actual specifications details. Use specific, concrete language that identifies as precisely as possible what the product or component should be or do. Avoid words that are ambiguous--words that can be interpreted in more than one way. Use technical jargon the way it is used in the trade or profession. Test your specifications by putting yourself in the role of a bumbling contractor--or even an unscrupulous one. What are the ways a careless or incompetent individual could misread your specifications? Could someone willfully misread your specifications in order to cut cost, time, and quality? Obviously, no set of specifications can ultimately be "foolproof" or "shark-proof," but you must try to make them as clear and unambiguous as possible. For specifications to be used in design, manufacturing, construction, or procurement, use "shall" to indicate requirements. In specifications writing, "shall" is understood as indicating a requirement. (See the outline-style specifications in Figure C-1 for examples of this style of writing.) Provide numerical specifications in both words and symbols: for example, "the distance between the two components shall be three centimeters (3 cm)." Writing style in specifications can be very terse: incomplete sentences are acceptable as well as the omission of functions words such as articles and conjunctions that are understood. Exercise great caution with pronouns and relational or qualifying phrases. Make sure there is no doubt about words such as "it," "they," "which," and "that" refer to. Watch out for sentences containing a list of two or more items followed by some descriptive phrase--does the descriptive phrase refer to all the list items or just one? In cases like these, you may have to take a wordier approach for the sake of clarity. Use words and phrasing that have become standard in similar specifications over the years. Past usage has proven them reliable. Avoid words and phrases that are known not to hold up in lawsuits. Make sure your specifications are complete--put yourself in the place of those who need your specifications; make sure you cover everything they will need. Contents and Organization of Specifications. Organization is critical in specifications--readers need to be able to find one or a collection of specific details. To facilitate the process of locating individual specifications, use headings, lists, tables, and identifying numbers as discussed previously. But a certain organization of the actual contents is also standard. General description--Describe the product, component, or program first in general terms-- administrative details about its cost, start and completion dates, overall description of the project, scope of the specifications (what you are not covering), anything that is of a general nature and does not fit in the part-by-part descriptions in the following. Part-by-part description--In the main body, present specifications part by part, element by element, trade by trade--whatever is the logical, natural, or conventional way of doing it. General-to-specific order--Wherever applicable, arrange specifications from general to specific. Graphics in Specifications. In specifications, use graphics wherever they enable you to convey information more effectively. For example, in the specifications for a cleanroom for production of integrated circuits, drawings, diagrams, and schematics convey some of the information much more succinctly and effectively than sentences and paragraphs. Online Technical Writing: Resources for Writing Business Plans A business plan is a document used to start a new business or get funding for a business that is changing in some significant way. Business plans are important documents for business partners who need to agree upon and document their plans, government officials who may need to approve aspects of the plan, and of course potential investors such as banks or private individuals who may decide to fund the business or its expansion. If you are enrolled in a course associated with this page, you are in a writing course, not a business course. Our focus is on good writing, well-designed documents, documents that accomplish their purpose, and documents that meet common expectations as to their content, organization, and format. A business plan is obviously an important application of writing and one that may contain substantial technical information about the business operations or products. That's why it's a good option for the final project in a technical- writing course. You can write a business plan if you actually are trying to start a business or if you'd merely like to do some constructive daydreaming about a business you'd like to start. Beware, however, if you are just playing around with the business-startup notion: the business plan you write for this course must be every bit as serious, realistic, specific, factual, well-researched, and well-thought-out as a business plan for a real situation. Business plans can be very large documents containing information that you may have no way of getting. Work with your instructor to reach an agreement on the scope of the business plan you write. Remember too that your instructor is probably not a professional business-startup consultant and probably won't be able to help you on the finer points of planning a business. Here are some additional resources on business plans: Business Plan Software, Samples, and Strategy. Made available by Center for Business Planning. Business Plan Guide. Made available by Miller Consulting, this site contains good information on business plans plus numerous links to other sites on the same topic. SOHO Guidebook: A Practical Guide to Starting, Running and Growing a Small Business. Produced by CCH Incorporated, this guidebook contains a wealth of information; for the purposes of business and technical writing courses, see the links on business plan documents, in particular. Teneric Business and Marketing Plans. This is a commercial venture that wants to write business plans for you or teach you how, but it does include a sample business plan and a template for business plans. Americas Business Consulting. Offers business plan development; has links to potentially useful related sites.